They may be the favored playground of Africa's backpacking set, but these days the shores of Lake Malawi are looking as bedraggled as a raver the morning after a full-moon party. With concrete bungalows crowding the lakefront, and plastic bags washing up onshore, the age of innocence has passed. But happily, the Mozambican side of one of the world's largest freshwater lakes appears to have escaped much of the tourist invasion and, for those with good sense (and budget), a haven of empty beaches, rocky coves and pristine forest awaits. Tucked away among it is the Manda Wilderness Nkwichi Lodge.
'Stunning first impressions of this sun-drenched hideaway are formed by sugar-white sand and a sensitivity of construction that sees all buildings buried amid the trees, leaving the natural shoreline intact. Accommodation is in the form of six chalets and two larger houses that, with their baths hewn from boulders, tree-trunk bedposts and swinging hammocks, look part Fred Flintstone and part Survivor. Use of local crafts and textiles will please your inner hippie, as will Nkwichi's environmental and community credentials. The lodge helps support an adjoining game reserve and operates a trust that has been responsible for the construction of five schools and a maternity clinic, among other developments. All power is solar-generated.
This clear-eyed sense of duty in no way detracts from hedonistic holiday-making, however. Candlelit meals focus on local ingredients (think spicy lake fish with cassava greens in peanut sauce), and can be served on the beach, in your chalet or even in the shade of a 2,000-year-old baobab tree. There are several strategically positioned loungers from which to contemplate the Edenic scenery, but if you're the active type, all manner of fun from sailing to snorkeling, as well as hiking in the reserve, can be organized.
Chalet accommodation starts at $290 per person, including all meals. See www.mandawilderness.org for more.
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